|No. 23 West Virginia rolls into AdvoCare Invitational|
Even with its psyche boosted by a string of three blowout wins at home, No. 23 West Virginia heads to the AdvoCare Invitational trying to make amends.
"I wanted to go down there 4-0, like all the players did," coach Bob Huggins said.
Instead the Mountaineers (3-1) remain defined by their season-opening 23-point loss to No. 16 Texas A&M in Germany. That perception could change should the wins keep piling up this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where West Virginia is the favorite among the eight-team field.
"We've got a chance to go win a championship and that makes it kind of fun," Huggins said.
His team has won its past three games by an average margin of 42 points and Thursday night's tournament opener against Marist (0-3) could be lopsided too. The Foxes, picked next to last in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, opened the season with losses to Lehigh 84-76 in overtime, UMass Lowell 76-73 and Army 94-73.
Fourth-year Marist coach Mike Maker, trying to retool a program that hasn't had a winning record since 2007, spent two seasons as a West Virginia assistant under John Beilen.
"That will pull at my heartstrings a little bit because I had such a great experience there," Maker said. "It will be a stiff challenge, but we're looking forward to that overall experience for our basketball program and how that will help us prepare for the MAAC."
Marist junior Brian Parker (19.7 points. 6.3 rebounds) is among the MAAC's top guards, but his 4.3 turnovers per game could be enticing for a "Press Virginia" full-court defense that rattles ball-handlers. The Mountaineers have forced 70 turnovers during their three-game winning streak, though their aggression sometimes leaves shooters open on the back end.
"Nobody comes down, puts three fingers up and runs a set against us," Huggins said. "That's the strength of what we do. The hard thing of it is when you double a ball-screen and you go double in the halfcourt, you've got to have three guys who make the right rotation.
"We're getting better. It's so much repetition. We've got to keep repping the same thing over and over."
Senior point guard Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers' leader, averages 4.5 steals to go along with 15.5 points and 6.5 assists. Fellow guard Daxter Miles (14.8 points) has continued his hot-and-cold tendencies, scoring a combined 52 points against American and Morgan State but only seven in the other two games.
Lamont West and Beetle Bolden -- both of whom average 12.8 points -- are West Virginia's top 3-point shooters, while center Sagaba Konate has blocked four shots in each of his three starts and is coming off a career-best 20-point game against Long Beach State.
The winner advances to Friday's semifinals against Central Florida (3-0) or Nebraska (3-1). The tournament championship is slated for Sunday.
On the opposite side of the bracket, St. John's (4-0) faces Oregon State (2-1) and Long Beach State (2-2) meets Missouri (3-1), which threatened to be a Top 25 team before losing fab freshman Michael Porter Jr. to season-ending back surgery.